My Mother, After the Dementia Scare

I had expected worse and felt relieved
to find you so close to your old self,
reminiscing about the good times,
carefully avoiding the bad.
They said you had not smiled this much in many months,
that, maybe, the fog of medication had cleared up at last,
or else, your happiness at seeing me had brought you back.
Back from where?

You were more like yourself than you had been
but it was still a limited version of you:
A little girl locked in an old woman’s body,
not the elegant lady I was so proud to show off in school
(my beautiful mother, still slim after giving birth to seven girls).
Just a shadow of the woman who’d made notes in her diary about Proust,
who was fluent in four languages,
appeared undaunted in any social situation.

Always reticent, you have become more so.
I can only guess at the thoughts in your head.
With people like us,
who were raised to say nothing
if nothing nice could be said,
silence is never a good sign.

Elisabeth Khan

Born in Belgium, I lived 25 years in Michigan before becoming a nomad traveling back and forth between the USA, Europe, the UAE, and India. I blog when I find the time but usually I am too busy living. A few of my stories and poems have been published in "Hanging Loose," "The McGuffin," and other places. My travels and my family are my main sources of inspiration.

  1. Elisabeth Khan

    Thank you for your generous comment, Elaine. Losing one’s mother is very hard, and losing her mentally, years before we lose her physically, is agonizing, as you well know.

  2. Elisabeth Khan

    Thank you, Susan. I was not aware that the poem had been published until I found your comment. This poem, and another one that I wrote when my mom was in the middle of a drug-induced (little did we know) near-catatonic state, contain the kernel of a future non fiction piece, if I can ever bring myself to write it.

  3. Susan P. Blevins

    This is heart-breaking Elisabeth. So difficult and painful for you. Thank you for writing what many experience but few can express. xo

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    Thank you for this beautiful and perceptive poem, Elisabeth. My mother had Alzheimer’s for a dozen years and died in her 90s. My mother-in-law is 100 and slowly loses more of her short-term memory, including forgetting (sometimes) that her son died 8 years ago. It isn’t the same as Alzheimer’s which wipes the slate clean, but she is diminished and weakened. Her spirit is gone. We’ve all become attuned to the scary word Alzheimer’s, but old age has other ways of stripping us down to the bone.

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